Driving kids around our crowded metropolis is often expensive and stressful. Explosive growth, unpredictable traffic, interminable construction and parking hassles — not to mention whining and back-seat arguments — can make getting around a serious ordeal.
But what if traveling with our kids was an adventure? What if the journey was at least half of the fun? What if it was an opportunity to learn, get some exercise and connect with each other and the people in our community?
Taking a break from the car is good for your kids — and the planet. Plus, I have never met a young child who didn’t love buses and trains. So why not capitalize on the fun factor and take transit for your next family outing? With a brand-new light rail route, as well as bus, streetcar and water taxi options, there’s never been a better time to ditch the car and let someone else do the driving.
A primer on transit with kids
If you’ve never taken your kids (or yourself!) on transit, here are some tips to get you started.
Prepare for fares: Whether you’re riding Metro or Sound Transit, children 5 and younger are free. Kids 6 and older pay the youth fare; adult fares vary, depending on the system, mode and distance you are traveling. The simplest way to ride without worrying about having the correct change is to use an ORCA card that can be used to pay for bus, Sounder, light rail or ferry fare (ORCA is our regional fare system). orcacard.com, metro.kingcounty.gov/fares.
Plan ahead: King County Metro, Sound Transit, Pierce Transit and Community Transit share the same regional trip planner, so planning a trip online is pretty simple. If you have a smartphone, you can download the Puget Sound Trip Planner app, which also includes real-time arrival information. Other apps are also useful; check this King County appcenter link. (I use the free OneBusAway app for arrival info).
Set your children up for success: There is no more public way to parent than on public transportation. Keeping children calm and well-behaved is essential for good transit citizenship — and for your sanity. Make sure your little ones are well-rested and well-fed; and pack the few things they will need for several hours away from home.
Here’s a sampler of suggested outings.
For the sake of simplicity, all trips begin in downtown Seattle, but you can use King County Metro’s Trip Planner to plan a route that starts wherever you like.
NEW LIGHT RAIL: Link to Capitol Hill and the University
Adventures await along the new University of Washington Link light rail extension, which opened last March. On Capitol Hill, the Link station is on the southeast corner of Broadway and John, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and shops within walking distance (including Dick’s).
If you visit on a Sunday, head south on Broadway to Seattle Central Community College for the Capitol Hill Broadway Farmers Market. It’s also a short walk to Cal Anderson Park, where there’s a “mountain fountain” (according to my kids), a playground with swings and lots of open space. At nearby Elliott Bay Book Company, a children’s story time is hosted on Saturdays at 11 a.m.
The University of Washington station is right next to Husky Stadium. If you’re up for a stroll, take the station elevator to the new pedestrian overpass that leads to the Burke-Gilman Trail. Or, walk through the university campus for spring blooms, Rainier views and museum fun.
Getting there: Board at any Link station between Tukwila and Westlake and ride north to the Capitol Hill or University of Washington stations. (The ride from downtown to the UW station should take eight minutes.) Note that you must tap your ORCA card or buy a ticket from a station vending machine before boarding the train.
POOL AND PARKS: Link light rail to Rainier Beach
For another Link adventure, ride the train from downtown south to Rainier Beach to visit the new(ish) community center and pool. This pool has everything: a play area, fountain, lazy river and water slide. Also, it’s warm! Just around the corner, visit the newly remodeled Rainier Beach branch of the Seattle Public Library. If you’re feeling ambitious, take a long walk to wonderful Kubota Garden (slightly less than a mile from the station) and enjoy the flowers in bloom.
Getting there: Board the train at any Link stop and get off at Rainier Beach station. (The ride from Westlake Station is 26 minutes.) The community center is a short walk from the station.
FERRY TALE: King County Water Taxi to Seacrest/Alki
Both my kids started riding buses at 1 day old (seriously) and have ridden their fair share of trains. But a trip on the King County Water Taxi always makes them giddy. The water taxi travels across Elliott Bay between Pier 50 downtown and Seacrest Park in West Seattle. In nicer weather, ride on the upstairs deck for the 10-minute journey to enjoy views of Mount Rainier and the Seattle skyline.
On the West Seattle side, explore the rocky beach at Seacrest Park or snack on sliders and shave ice at Marination Ma Kai. Or catch a free shuttle (Route 775) to Alki Beach (you can also rent bikes and pedal the wide Alki Trail).
Getting there: To get to Pier 50, take a bus to Pioneer Square and walk west on Yesler all the way to the water. (Because of construction on the waterfront, give yourself plenty of time to make the boat.) You can use cash or an ORCA card on the boat, but if you use ORCA, the fares are cheaper.
PARK ON THE SOUND: RapidRide to Lincoln Park
You could easily spend a whole day at West Seattle's Lincoln Park, just a 25-minute ride on the RapidRide C bus line from downtown Seattle. It boasts a wading pool (open in summer) and playground near the entrance of the park. Walk along the trails to the beautiful shoreline and, if you visit in summer, don't miss Colman Pool, a heated saltwater pool with stunning views of Puget Sound.
Getting there: From downtown Seattle, take RapidRide C to Fauntleroy Way S.W. and S.W. Rose Street. Walk one block north to the park entrance. Note: Many RapidRide stops have ORCA readers so that passangers can pay before they board.
GREAT LAKE: Metro to Madison Park
It’s a straight shot from downtown Seattle on the No. 11 bus to Madison Park, a Lake Washington beach area that is an ideal spot to spend a sunny afternoon. Play at the park (with a zip line and playground) or wade at the swimming beach. When it’s snack time, there are plenty of restaurants, a grocery store and even an ice creamery within walking distance.
Getting there: Catch the No. 11 bus on Pike Street downtown. Get off at the very bottom of Madison (43rd Avenue E. and E. Madison Street), across from the lake.
RAIL TRAIL: Bus and commuter rail to Tacoma
Tacoma is a perfect destination for a transit adventure: far enough away to feel like a true journey, relatively simple to access by transit, and with many cultural outings within a short walk. Just on Pacific Avenue, you can visit the Children’s Museum of Tacoma (with pay-as-you-can pricing), the Washington State History Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum. Also on Pacific, stop by the creative reuse center, Tinkertopia, to make something useful out of items from its amazing collections.
Another reason to visit Tacoma is to have an excuse to ride the Sounder train. It has comfortable seats, gorgeous views, tables (for card games, drawing, Play-Doh, etc.) and — wait for it — bathrooms on board!
Getting there: Because the Sounder is optimized for people commuting to Seattle from the south, there are only two early-morning trips from Seattle to Tacoma. Your best bet is to take Sound Transit express bus route 590/594 to Tacoma, which runs at least every 20 minutes from downtown Seattle to Pacific Avenue and 19th Street in downtown Tacoma.
At the end of the day, Tacoma’s free Link light rail line can whisk you to the Sounder Station for your trip home (there are two afternoon trips between Tacoma and Seattle). Find schedules at soundtransit.org. Note: The Sounder only operates on weekdays, so save this one for a school break. On a weekend, you can bus both ways, or consider taking Amtrak, a pricier option.
There are countless other transit adventures to take with kids (our family has been just about everywhere on the bus). Not only will you have tons of fun, you will also be teaching your kids to be good stewards of the planet they have inherited.